Rename Cobo Center for Joe Louis

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The downtown convention center currently named for Albert Cobo is one of Detroit's biggest landmarks. It should be named for a champion of freedom, an embodiment of what makes Detroit great - not for a defender of racism.

Albert Cobo, mayor of Detroit from 1950 to 1957, won office on a promise to preserve racial segregation in housing, keeping all-white areas of the city "safe" from what he called "Negro invasions." Cobo also supervised the deliberate destruction of Detroit's Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods through "urban renewal" and construction of highways, which came to be called "Cobo's canyons."

Joe Louis, on the other hand, exemplifies the best of Detroit through his determination and fighting spirit. Raised in Black Bottom after his Alabama family escaped Jim Crow terrorism, Louis battled racism in the boxing world to win the world championship title. His 1938 bout with Nazi Germany's Max Schmeling was one of the biggest sporting events of the 20th century, listened to by millions of people around the world who saw the fight as a symbolic contest between freedom and fascism.

After defeating Schmeling, Louis became a nationally celebrated hero. When World War Two broke out, he enlisted in the Army and played a leading role in the recruitment campaign. In recognition of his service to the nation, he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Unfortunately, the best-known monument to Louis, Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, is scheduled to be demolished, since it is being replaced by the new Little Caesars Arena.

The Detroit area's regional convention authority is talking about selling the naming rights to Cobo to a corporation. But we don't need one more commercialized building name.

As Rochelle Riley has argued in the Detroit Free Press, we have a clear opportunity to make Cobo's new name speak to our hopes for a more just and perfect city and region. We need a name that the people of greater Detroit can unite behind, a name that exemplifies the best that we can be: Joe Louis.

We urge Mayor Duggan, the County Executives of the tri-county area, and their representatives on the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority to support renaming Cobo for Joe Louis, a true hero of Detroit.



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